Our present church was built in 1892 and completed in 1893 with the prayers and sacrifices of our ancestors, ever mindful that the church was to be a beautiful and worthy place for prayer and ceremonial.
The church building shows the influence of medieval church Catholic architecture with a sturdy bell tower on the front a rectangular nave and an interior Romanesque vault, which affords almost perfect acoustics.
The most solemn and sacred liturgy of our church is the Mass; the commemoration, continuation and consummation of the Sacrifice of the Cross. The Mass is celebrated every day in this church. During the week, it is celebrated mornings in the east chapel. On Saturday evening, Sunday morning, and on Holy Days, it is held in the whole body of the church.
The following brief history of Saints Peter and Paul Church is rendered to inform you of only the structural history of the church building and is not meant to be comprehensive parish history.
Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church is the only Catholic Church in Clay County and is among the oldest parishes of the Salina diocese – formerly the Concordia diocese (composed of the northwest quadrant of Kansas). Our parish actually predated the establishment of the diocese as it was originally part of the Leavenworth dioceses, the first Catholic diocese in the Kansas Territory, before statehood.
The first priest assigned to the Clay County areas in 1865 was Reverend Joseph Remele, a Jesuit priest from the former Jesuit House in St. Mary’s, Kansas, who celebrated Mass in the homes of Daniel Duhig and Carl Holzang. Courthouse records show the present parish property (six lots) was deeded to Bishop L.M. Fink, Bishop of Leavenworth, from Alonzo F. Dexter, Clay Center, Kansas, in August 1877.
There were forty Catholic families in the first Christian parish community, and after buying the property, a small wooden church was built and stood west of the present rectory. It was completed in 1879, and Reverend Casper Hospenthal was assigned as resident pastor. Saints Peter and Paul became a base for Catholic Christians in Clifton, Cuba, Clara, Riley, Kimeo, Longford, Bala, and Wakefield.
The original frame church served as the parish church until the present native stone church was erected in 1890-1892, under the supervision of Reverend Aloysius Meili, who died of tuberculosis in 1893, and is buried in the Catholic portion of Greenwood Cemetery. Our beloved church building remains in solid and sound condition after all these years.
The wooden church building was converted into a private parochial school in 1897, staffed by the Sisters of St. Joseph from Concordia, Kansas. The school closed in 1902, and the building became a parish hall until 1959 when it was removed. In 1927, the present rectory was built and furnished.
After World War II, and under the pastorate of Monsignor William Merchant (1947-1954), stained glass windows were installed, a new organ was purchased and the interior of the church was decorated with new hand carved wood statues of the Crucifixion and Saints Peter and Paul on the main high altar in the Sanctuary, and St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother Mary on the side altars.
The congregation continued to grow and the need for more room became apparent. Thus in 1957, under the direction of Monsignor Armand Girard, plans were drawn to expand the Sanctuary, and to add an east and west chapel on either side, in the ancient traditional form of a cross. A full basement was built under the Sanctuary and the chapel wings to serve as a parish hall and classrooms for the Catechism or education program. The new addition was completed in 1958.
Any history of the parish structures must include the building of our Parish Hall in April of 1991. Answering the prayerful needs of our parish community, the new Parish Hall provided more classrooms, an accessible social hall and kitchen facilities. It has proven to be an asset and useful to the whole Clay Center community. We are happy and proud to share it with the community.
In 1996, the need for general repair to the infrastructure and renovation of the interior church was again apparent. Under the direction of Reverend Loren Werth and the parish council, a volunteer committee was formed to plan the renovation and repair of the church interior. After several years of prayer, investigation, planning, and the generous funding of the parish community, the renovation began on April 1, 1999, and finished by Christmas of 1999.